The Interestings is about a group of friends who meet as teenagers at a summer camp for the arts. Julie is an insecure 14-year-old sent to camp on scholarship, who is stunned to be invited to hang out with the cool kids. They end up being close throughout their adult lives, although Julie never quite loses that starry-eyed, I’m-not-good-enough attitude.
My reaction to this book was mixed, because while I really identified with Julie (who renames herself Jules), I also found her pretty unlikable, for reasons I’ll describe. I’m curious to know how much of that was the author’s intent, and if other readers share my opinion.
This story covers about 25 years. Unlike some books that jump ahead 10 or 20 years at a time, this is a slow tale that covers all of those times in pretty thoughtful detail. I liked that, although sometimes I found the pace maddeningly slow. It does jump around in chronology quite a bit, which I didn’t love. For example, you know who Jules will marry early on in the book, even though the book later covers how they met and the details of their relationship.
I could understand the idea that, when you’re a teenager, a group of friends can unexpectedly change your life, for the rest of your life. I share that sense that everything important in your life is grounded in when you were a teenager. It’s a life-defining time. I didn’t maintain the friendships I made in those years, although I think about them, and wonder where they are, all the time. I also get Jules’ outsider perspective. I remember what it was like to be “invited” into a group that (in my mind) shouldn’t have had any interest in me.
But I grew out of that idea as an adult. Jules reminded me a little of Richard in The Secret History. For Richard, and for most people, those exciting friends from our teenage years end up falling from their pedestals. In this story, they only become more glamorous.
One of the themes of this story is how money and success influence friendships. One of Jules’ friends creates a hugely successful animated show that I have to assume is based on “The Simpsons”. He makes a ton of money and Jules constantly compares her lifestyle to his. He’s the guy she could have had but didn’t want. Only now she’s not quite sure.
One of the more interesting characters is Jonah, who is abused by a family friend as a child, which he’s never told anyone about and never dealt with. I wanted to see more of Jonah in this book than I did, though I found his passivity and refusal to deal with his issues frustrating at times. I think he could have been more developed.
I also liked the character of Jules’ husband Dennis, and I was annoyed by the way she treats him, as if he’s not quite good enough for her friends. There’s a decision she makes late in the book that is so inconsiderate, so thoughtless, I would have thrown the book against a wall if it wasn’t on my Kindle. She also treats her mother and sister pretty badly. I found her incredibly self-absorbed, so it’s ironic that her chosen career is that of a therapist.
I lost a lot of sympathy for both Jules and Ash with the storyline about Ash’s brother. The book also loses me a bit in Jules and her friends’ child-rearing years.
In the end I found this book a thoughtful, if slow-moving, look at how our friendships, and our concepts of self, change throughout our life. I suppose very few of us reach the goals we dreamed of when we were young, and we struggle (and settle) along the way. For me though, while my career hasn’t quite gone where I wanted, I’m happy with my life, and I wouldn’t go back to my teenage years if you paid me.
Although, like Jules, I never quite left them behind, either.